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Mega Sonnet Batch: 20 Takes on Turkey

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Mega Sonnet Batch: 20 Takes on Turkey

by John Kendall Hawkins


still from film Midnight Express (1978)
still from film Midnight Express (1978)
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I. Teaching English in Overseas

I told my folks I was off to Turkey to teach,

and they panicked; I presumed they feared I would die.

They invited me for dinner: chicken pot pie.

We tossed back a few frosties and they tried to reach

into me and chastise my reckless soul. Why, son?

Got the giggles. Brought along a movie to watch.

Midnight Express. Oh, their faces when the Turks catch

Billy at the airport muling horse. He was done.

And when he gets to the dungeon, rape scenes galore.

(Me cracking up.) The grim furrows of their faces.

But that was not why I fell out of their graces.

They were crazed I quit my government job. What for!?

They'd grown up knowing some hard times, and I got that,

but I wasn't gonna be a G-man asshat.

(Image by Art Gallery ErgsArt)
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II. Istanbul, Day One, Help Me*

What a trip coming into Ataturk Airport:

military bunkers, soldiers with machine guns

in Luggage, stress, me feeling all mission-abort.

And I'd read the tap water could give you the runs.

A man with a square-shaped head and sign called my name.

He grabbed my bags, mute, and we were off. But where to?

KozyataÄŸÄ , it turns out. I was shown my flat. Lame.

I looked around. Where'd my driver disappear to?

The coal dust in the air filled my lungs and I slept.

I had strange dreams. I could hear the muezzin calling.

Aygaz! jingled from a van's speakers as it crept.

I projected from my body, began falling

on a wind that carried me over a dark sea

and heard voices compete in a catastrophe

of wails, ululations and cries of ecstasy.

I woke up, made Nescafe, in lieu of coffee.

I felt like a ghost. The thought made me unsteady.

The shock of the new was getting old already.

* Experimental 18-line sonnet I'm rolling my sleeves up over.

View inside a Turkish dolmus
View inside a Turkish dolmus
(Image by John Hawkins)
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III. Taksim Square by Dolmu...Ÿ

To get to Taksim we hopped into a dolmu...Ÿ,

seemingly stuffed already, but there was still room.

Estrus, stray sneezes, the old guy smelling of doom.

"A great way to get around if you were in no rush."

Taksim's the place to be if you want Euro-fare

and to be around expats like you, lost, now found,

smiling, nodding at each other's tee shirts, bound

for retro tables, to be served steaks, German beer.

Folks do their shopping there for knickknacks to bring home.

Your eyes avoid the machineguns looking for Kurds.

Me and the guy in the Yankees tee exchange words --

he taunts, Bucky Dent at my B cap. I point: Comb.

And the massive overflowing baked potatoes!

And the Red Light district with the hot tomatoes!

Catal H%C3%BCy%C3%BCk EL.JPG
Catal H%C3%BCy%C3%BCk EL.JPG
(Image by Wikipedia (, Author: Elelicht)
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IV. Ã"atalhà yuk or Bust

At university I studied all

the ancient cultures. Matrilineals

tickled my fancy best. Ã"atalhà yuk,

according to my used assigned textbook,

got the nod from secreting pineals

who saw it as the best hope since The Fall.

They did things right and didn't f*ck around

with clown shows and excessive displays of power,

said my feminist love to me. I winked.

We held out glasses of bubbles and clinked.

And later, natch, we made love. A wower.

The theses of her persuasion astound.

She says, Let's go anarcho-communist.

Sounds orgasmic, but maybe over-blissed.

Buyukada Greek Orphanage
Buyukada Greek Orphanage
(Image by Where Is Your Toothbrush?)
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V. On Buyukada

On Buyukada there are horse-drawn carriage tours

when you get off the ferry from KadÄ kà y,

but they're not cheap, and you may have to wait, of course.

However, it's best if you go on foot, and it's free.

Most people stay around the harbor, fill the cafes,

drink cuppas, talk small, take snaps, look sightseer bored,

before shipping back to Old Istanbul to graze

the bargains of the Grand Bazaar, one with the hoard.

There's an old touching orphanage built by the French

that looks like some dry arsonist's wet dream come true;

it's just out of town, a small climb uphill. A bench

relieves the burden, provides a chance to construe.

I light a Camel, careful where I toss the match,

and look for ghosts peering out from a shadow patch.

The Deluge
The Deluge
(Image by Gustave Doré)
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VI. The Anatolian Peninsula

Anatolia is stuffed with scenic goodies.

There's "eternal snow" that you can look at forever.

And Treasure of the Sierra Madre fever

brought Indy Jones types seeking biblical booties.

The biggest trophy would be Noah's Ark, of course.

The ants went marching two by two -- that kind of sh*t.

I watched In Search of one time about the ark. Some git

going on with rhetorical questions or worse.

There's just so much that's happened in the region

that I couldn't sum it up; snaps will have to do.

It's said the Apostles sent scrolls to folks here. So...

I fought some goon in a bar on the Aegean.

If you go down in the flood it'll be your fault,

quoth the Bard from Duluth. White man's blues somersault.

IMG_0544 Antonio Triva. 1626-1699. He'ro et Le'andre. Hero and Leander. Lons le Saunier.
Copyrighted Image? DMCA

VII. Leander, Hand on Her Knee

"Janie's Got A Gun" was playing in my mind. Oy.

I couldn't stop the goddamn thing's looping. Punch me,

I said to Jenny. She gives me a look, real coy,

then kisses me on the lips. I've got a hunch, see,

that if the ferry sank right this very moment

with us carrying on, nazar eyes watching us French,

my hand on her knee homeward bound to sweet torment,

that my honey pie Hero wouldn't even flinch.

The spell is broken not by recrimination,

some old Islo taking umbrage, but by rose tea

proffered by a waiter, his look, Know your station.

I pay the à ayman, while Jenny looks out to sea.

Something about the Bosphorus, late afternoons,

stirring rose tea in tiny cups with tiny spoons.

Behrouz Boochani by Hoda Afshar.
Behrouz Boochani by Hoda Afshar.
(Image by Wikipedia (, Author: Hoda Afshar)
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VIII. The Kurd Problem

There one of those diasporas you hear about

on the radio, NPR, drive time, a cause

to rally round, discretionary funds go out

where hearts are missing, class buffer zone sh*t. Hit pause.

Nobody knows where they live; they don't even know.

I guess that's the point; it is a moveable beast

driven by competing lusts. I knew a Kurd though.

Not really. I reviewed his keened book, but at least

he got some air time, as they say, but who am I?

I doubt that it did much but titillate the mind

for a few minutes; a sonnet having a cry.

Stop and go traffic; it's the bind leading the bind.

My Kurd's not homeless now, and the book made him rich.

I wish more homeless would write books. I've got an itch.

(Image by Wikipedia (, Author: Etan J. Tal)
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IX. Shipping Out of Istanbul

They nickel and dime you to death when they barter,

and they expect it, at least that's what the guide says,

but we were in a hurry to board the liner

that would bring Jenny and I to Izmir; finer

deals awaited us there; she had a carpet craze

and telling her to slow down was a non-starter.

I spent the whole time reading the Herald Tribune,

while Jenny slept next to me naked and happy

as a fresh-fucked rabbit, I thought. Yanks beat Red Sox.

No pencil, no crossword. I longed for a bagel with lox.

Jenny seemed to purr and I said something sappy,

my hand along her curvature, We'll be there soon.

In Izmir the carpet twirler-cum-salesman

conjured up myopic girls with fingers. Oh, man.

(Image by Clive Varley)
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X. Efes Pilsner

Saw so many breasts in Ephesus, I was awed.

Goddesses, mama mia. Locals pitching in.

I was developing a complex of male gaze sin.

It was too much, and maybe it should be outlawed.

Jenny went looking for new pelf, and I hung out

at the hotel poolside getting slowly shitfaced,

ogling all the Artemises on the slide. Disgraced

by my half-stifled urge to call out. A real lout.

For some reason, I thought of President Carter,

the Playboy interview and his lust in the heart,

surrounded by young bunnies who gave you a start,

his October surprise, new eyes: he looked smarter.

Jenny shipped home her rugs and trinket treasure zen.

The statue of Artemis would go in the den.

cursed medusa.......mystery in the cistern
cursed medusa.......mystery in the cistern
(Image by lensnmatter)
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XI. Carpets, Mosques, The Cistern

They just keep spinning the carpets, and just won't stop.

Some tell tales of weaving girls with ruined childhoods,

as they spin, as if to torture you. Look, mister,

each rug's a girl, he spins, and here is her sister.

Punishing me, he says, barter, wolf in the woods

blaming me for his Little Red Riding Hood shop.

And, frankly, I'm tired of the f*cking mosques, Jenny.

We take a break and have a bite down in the zoo.

Bleak-looking monkeys are out on the prowl for food,

bunker mentality pacing. Down went my mood.

Saw a lion so sad it broke my heart in two.

Jen looked strangely tender, took a sip, Want any?

In the cistern crazed Medusa returned our gaze,

and Jenny held my hand. Together in the maze.

Hans Speckaert - Conversion of St Paul on the Road to Damascus - WGA21655.
Hans Speckaert - Conversion of St Paul on the Road to Damascus - WGA21655.
(Image by Wikipedia (, Author: Author Not Given)
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XII. Train on the Plain

Clickety-clacking by train across Asia Minor,

gazing out at the farmers in the sun at work,

you have a lot of time to think about evil,

the nature of Mankind, the Fall, and the Devil,

channeling an apostle, say Saul, berserk

with suffering, ready to convert to the Word.

Lara in the seat across from me is from York.

We've been together five days backpacking, loving --

a keeper as they say, long legs catching the rays.

She's doing a doctorate, keened on ancient ways,

and she wears a golden necklace of doves singing.

She's way too good for me, plays Mindy to my Mork.

She's reading long passages of Wordsworth aloud.

I love her tender voice, but I hate Wordsworth's cloud.

Evil eye
Evil eye
(Image by grongar from flickr)
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XIII. Evil Eyes and Peacock People

Daft premonition of future panopticons.

Evil eyes on sale everywhere, an early sign

we've become an internetwork of things unseen.

No tourist leaves Istanbul without the blue sheen

of new insight glowing away in their old mind.

To me it looks like an eye glued to a wet mons.

I can't help that it looks that way; just how it looks.

Is it me or do folks here avoid eye contact?

And do I have the right to be looking for some?

Besides, the nazars don't work, the whole world's a bum

that long long ago succumbed to the devil's pact.

Sweet Lara is sifting through old deserted books.

Seen a certain way, the eyes meet yours from some goop:

spooky half-beings from the primordial soup.

(Image by lin padgham)
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XIV. A Cappuccino in Cappadocia

The cave hotel we stayed in was like The Flintstones,

and, though I was born a rebel, chattering teeth

didn't suit me, and I didn't care to see my breath

mingling with Bobbi's after making love's soft tones.

Next day all worn out from love and mind-seizing cold,

we toured the fairy chimneys, and climbed lower Earth

to maybe the world's largest panic room, with hearth,

me feeling fuzzywuzzied and like I got rolled.

I dunno, I think they charge too much for gimmicks,

postcards that say, Look at me: I survived stone age

accomodations written in sore a**hole rage,

that is itself a fake wink home to fellow dicks.

All you can do sometimes is sigh, hold her closer,

and do your best to avoid seeming a poser.

Eid Al-Adha Goat Slaughter
Eid Al-Adha Goat Slaughter
(Image by emilleilmansyah from flickr)
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XVI. Eid of Destruction

Crammed minibus heading for KadÄ kà y.

First time ever saw a goat's throat cut.

Fat goat all dressed up like a party boy.

I said to my mind, come back, ten-hut,

it's not your culture. If they needs must slit

throats to feel alive, who am I to sigh?

Few blocks later, another took a hit.

Was too dumbstruck to ask the reason why.

The baker held a bucket out to drain

the flow stream of his gorgeous slit throat soup.

Technically, I could see how his hot pain

could be dipped into the red Campbell's goop.

Everybody seemed happy, for it was Eid,

I'd not be shocked if they'd broke out in Lied.

Fisherman on Galata bridge Istanbul
Fisherman on Galata bridge Istanbul
(Image by KCphotoscape)
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XVII. Off with the Ferries

From KadÄ kà y you can see old Europe.

Galata Tower, the Mosques, hint of Horn.

If you're lucky, you get some romance in.

Nothing too hot, nothing you could call sin.

Just feeling a warm stream, the summer morn,

maybe a little hungover. You'll cope.

Lara next to you, itching for some itch,

or, at least, that's your interpretation,

as you hold a blessed curve and she coos.

Coming into Karakà y, we hear hoys

for fish sandwiches. Concatenation

of men, fishing poles waiting for a twitch.

Cafe nosh in Ä degreesstiklal Caddesi.

Later that night, it's the old loch nessie.

Syrian gypsy girl in Fener
Syrian gypsy girl in Fener
(Image by CharlesFred from flickr)
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XVIII. The Gypsies of KozyataÄŸÄ *

Just around the corner, gypsies lived in squalor,

on a tiny lot, laundry on a line, stories

circulated about their ways, their sad lorries

telling the snapshotter of harsh life and dolor.

Word was that you had to stay away from the grifters.

If you made evil eye contact they'd steal your soul.

The men were nasty. The kerchiefed women weren't whole.

They feasted on yabancÄ . Maybe shape-shifters.

But this is the stuff of fear-mongers and not true,

you told yourself, left-pluralist to the core.

Yet still you felt for your wallet just to be sure,

skirted them on your booze runs, a street or two.

I never did get past taking snaps of their scene

and it's quite likely my snapshots were a stranger's preen.

A couple of weeks later, I did lose my wallet,

but gypsies weren't there; just carelessness I'd call it.

. * 18 line hybrid sonnet

(Image by Ankara'dan)
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XVIII. At Gallipoli Among the ANZACs

At the monument at Gallipoli, Aussies

circle, like pilgrims, around the Kaaba,

and catch up with mates, and sip at imported beers,

and carry on until Turks arrive, put on airs

of civility that sound like taunts. My lover,

Lara, urges me toward the trenches. No worries.

F*cking around, tore my new jeans on old barbed wire,

multi-millions of lira down the drain. Lara

snaps a photo and laughs like Ataturk's fob watch,

deflecting the cruel angst from my pathetic botch.

I goosed her. Tomorrow we'd head for Ankara.

There were "unique" carpets there she wished to acquire.

You look down at the bluff they had to rise above.

You go, No way, Jose. Glad you're with your love.

The Whirling Dervishes show gets under way
The Whirling Dervishes show gets under way
(Image by shankar s. from flickr)
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XIX. Whirling Dervishes in the Snow

In winter, we went to Taksim to the dervish place,

the snow falling pretty, Bobbi not ducking in time

as I nailed her with an icy fastball. The crime

was repaid in kind and then some; she wanted face.

Ended with the usual cliche; snow snoggle

with serious, maybe fatal, sexual tension,

as I lay across her parka, gave her a toggle,

and she returned fire in ways I won't mention.

We played like that up and down Taksim's winding streets,

from the square to the tower, down to the Red Light,

boo-peeking, ducking in doorways, peals of delight

ringing out all day long, wet snow falling in sheets.

That night we reached an understanding ecstasy,

spinning in each other's hot whiteness dervishly.

Made some lovely turksih pizza with my own twist toped with fresh herbs #lahmacun #turkishpizza #mincedmeat #tomato #parsly #herbs #basil #green #leaves #dough #baking #fromtheoven #food #foodie #foodlover #cleanfood #healthy #lunch #il
Made some lovely turksih pizza with my own twist toped with fresh herbs #lahmacun #turkishpizza #mincedmeat #tomato #parsly #herbs #basil #green #leaves #dough #baking #fromtheoven #food #foodie #foodlover #cleanfood #healthy #lunch #il
(Image by Jurgen Leckie)
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XX. If I Only Had A Lahmacun

Jesus, this poor man's pizza is mighty tasty.

There's no cheese but you really don't miss it. The lamb

is spiced, the veggies are so fresh you just might cry.

And the price couldn't be righter. Becky says, Why

don't they serve these zesty wonders at home, hot damn?

I'd like to serve you at home, I go, too hasty.

Back home, of all the sights and sounds we left behind

in Turkiye, we miss the scents of lahmacuns most

and go out of our way to find recipe books.

I luck out, find a coffee table tome for cooks

who know the game and can finesse spice. Me, I'm lost.

Becky will be cooking. I'll watch her from behind.

We invite friends over to share our secret pies.

They wolf down those bad boy lahmos. Predator's eyes.

(Article changed on Jan 04, 2022 at 12:10 PM EST)

(Article changed on Jan 04, 2022 at 5:28 PM EST)

(Article changed on Jan 04, 2022 at 6:36 PM EST)

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John Kendall Hawkins is an American ex-pat freelance journalist and poet currently residing in Oceania.

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